Many people who witnessed Sept. 11 have channeled their inner frustrations, anxieties, and feelings of trauma by turning to their respective talents.
These people constituted a broad cross section of city life: professionals, artists, doctors, lawyers, Wall Street financiers, and a cadre of ordinary citizens who began to process the events of Sept. 11 through their own skills. Artists created paintings, photographs, sculpture, and installation art. Literary artists produced poetry and prose and musicians have transferred their talents into making new music.
Today, you can view some of this unique art in an exhibition at The National September 11th Memorial Museum in Manhattan. Almost all artists recall their Sept. 11 experiences through art, channeling their pain and frustration.
As a witness to the events unfolding that brilliant morning on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, you never really are fully the same person again — you never return to the person you were on Sept. 10. This particular event — essentially a violent attack, likened to a battle scene of a combat zone — has left deep impressions on most who experienced Sept. 11.
To understand the gravity of what was experienced, I channeled my personal pain by giving freely of my technical advice and expertise on the design and construction of skyscrapers. I researched and reported on the causations of building destruction as well as published a forecast on how the events of Sept. 11 would impact newer building codes, regulations that we are now seeing come into effect 15 years later.
As in-house Architect/Director of the Design Consulting Department at a prominent law firm in Manhattan, I witnessed the impact of both airplanes entering the towers at World Trade Center North and South. The first, hit exactly the moment I surfaced from the subway station along 6th Avenue at Rockefeller Center, which had a clear, southerly view. The second plane hit at the moment I arrived on the 21st floor of our offices. Office colleagues, our executive assistants and construction lawyers gathered around our conference room to get caught up on television coverage.
The sky turned grey casting a shadow on our mid-town high-rise. I abruptly announced that if the fires we saw flaring out of both towers were not extinguished within 30-45 minutes, the buildings may come down. Based upon the building science of the strength of steel used in the construction of the WTC complex in the 1970s, I had learned about a forensic term called progressive collapse. As the minutes passed like hours, the ground shook as a cataclysmic collapse unfolded before our eyes.
When the North Tower fell, we began to gather our personal effects to evacuate our office tower. When we gathered at the ground floor lobby, each of us consulted the other to ask if they were okay or needed assistance that evening with spending the night in the city. All transportation ceased in and out of the borough of Manhattan. We were forced to walk — and we began to march in unison with at least several million people on foot up Park Avenue, each one peeling off the route to head in their own direction. Eventually, I found myself in Central Park making an uncharted course towards our townhouse in Hamilton Heights.
Have you ever heard the silent sound of New York City? Probably not: the city is in constant movement, and has earned the moniker ‘The City that Never Sleeps.” Taxis’ horns, police squad cars, yelling voices of typical street goers, and the frequency of steel-on-steel of the subway underneath your feet are all part of the City’s daily noise.
Yet, by noon, the throng grew to at least six million pedestrians — all traversing along the streets and bridges of NYC, and a new sound drowned out the distant sirens of emergency response vehicles. The sound of a million feet marching up Park Avenue was evocative of a human locomotive. Like the pulsating beat emanating from under the floorboards in Edgar Allan Poe’s Tell-Tale Heart, the sound of six million feet shuffling along the canyons of concrete leaves an imprint one never forgets.
Perhaps my path through Central Park was my internal guidance system trying to soften the apocalyptic scenes I was hearing and seeing. It was an eerily quiet commute back home. When I finally arrived at our townhouse and the door opened, there standing before me was my wife with our seven-week old daughter. No words were exchanged — only tearful direct eye contact and an embrace; a human touch that seemed to express a connection that words could not convey.
In the following days, as New York City was on “lock-down,” communications slowly resumed. People began working from home. Clients began calling us in our parlors and libraries in an effort to try to continue “business as normal.” Two clients in particular were directly impacted by the attacks: a developer that just took control of 150 Nassau Street just several blocks from Ground Zero where I was visiting the evening of September 10th; the other, a displaced architecture/design firm whose offices were located in Two World Trade Center.
When I received a letter from Mancini-Duffy post-marked September 12, I thought it was some sort of mirage. No doubt, a diligent employee who handled the office mail gathered the batch of business correspondence and walked it to Queens. I recently exchanged emails with the firm’s CEO, Anthony Schirripa, who was relieved to learn I kept his note as odd as it was to have been received on September 13 from a location that no longer existed. Everyone from his office escaped safely, stemming largely from the fact that the firm was on the 21st floor—low enough to exit safely. This simple exchange affirms our strength to carry on.
The fact that even business communications — the every essence of some of our daily professional lives — continued before, during and after this tragedy, conveys a simple message of hope: we are blessed to still be alive and productive. This in turn, provokes me to send a simple message to all of us — whoever you are, and by whatever means you meditate, pray or worship — consider that our lives are gifts and that we carry meaning and purpose both seen and unseen.
Take each day and try to make something positive happen in someone’s life — and that will be a dignified reflection of the events of Sept 11.
Inspired to contribute knowledge and advance building codes in the aftermath of 911, Roy Pachecano authored “Codes Under Fire,” which appeared in the May 2002 issue of TFM Magazine.
Top image: Photo by Andrea Booher, FEMA Photo-News, published in TFM Magazine’s May 2002 issue in article, “Codes Under Fire,” by Roy R. Pachecano.